411's Buy or Sell 9.30.13: Bockwinkel, Okerlund, Heenan and More
Posted by Matt O’Connell on 09.30.2013
Was Bobby Heenan a better manager than he was at commentary? Was Nick Bockwinkel the best world champion of the 1970's? Was Verne Gagne's training camp better than Stu Harts? 411's Matt O'Connell and Dino Zucconi debate these topics and more in this week's Buy or Sell!
HELLO, THERE. THE WEATHER SURELY HAS BEEN LOVELY THIS WEEK.
Welcome back to 411's Buy or Sell: Classic wrestling edition! This is a column where many exciting things happen, by which I mean one marginally exciting thing happens, which is that old school wrestling gets debated on the internet. I know it's mighty exciting, but let's do try to contain ourselves, shall we? Let's hope our full slate of AWA-centric questions doesn't push us right the hell over the edge! Our boatmen down this river of nostalgia this week are Matt O'Connell and Dino Zucconi. Is it time to Buy or Sell? I think it is, yeah.
Nick Bockwinkel was the best world champion of the 1970's.
Matt O'Connell BUY: It's not that I'm not a fan of the Funk brothers, Verne Gagne, Bruno Sammartino and Harley Race; I am, especially Terry and Harley. But from my perspective, Bockwinkel was in a class by himself as far as being championship material. While Harley was clearly a grizzled old bastard who could probably get hit by a tractor and kick out at two, Bruno was unrivalled in terms of popularity, and your Funks and Gagnes were technical marvels, Bockwinkel had that look, that attitude of effortless superiority ON TOP OF excellent ring acumen. To paraphrase Razor Ramon, Nick Bockwinkel was somebody important, meng.
Dino ZucconiSELL Look, I wasn't alive in the 70's, and my appreciation for Bockwinkel over the last 10 years thanks to YouTube has grown incredibly, but as long as Harley Race held a World Title in the 70's, then Race remains the best of the decade. Race remains, to me in my watching of older stuff, the absolute best of the pre-Dino days. Much respect to Mr. Bockwinkel, but he's not the greatest wrestler on the face of God's green earth. An easy Sell in favor of Harley.
Using the success of his students as a barometer, Verne Gagne's wrestling academy was better than Stu Hart's.
Matt O'Connell BUY: This one is a tough call, given the legend of the Hart Dungeon and the impressive list of workers that trained there: all the Harts, obviously, the Bulldogs, and basically every Canadian wrestler who made it big in the 1990's. There are also guys like Mark Henry, Roddy Piper and Honky Tonk Man who were not technicians but also got their start in Calgary, so you know that Stu wasn't only looking for mat wizards. But Verne's camp in Minnesota produced both Flair and Steamboat, as well as Curt Hennig, Sgt. Slaughter, Iron Sheik, the Andersons, the Nasty Boys, Bob Backlund and Ken Patera. They seem rather evenly matched on paper, but you can't get away from Ric Flair's 16 world titles, and his twenty years as the franchise of a national wrestling promotion.
Dino ZucconiBUY: I had to do some research on this, but holy smokes. Hogan, Flair, and Steamboat?? This was a huge heartbreak for me, as I wanted to just roll with Stu without any research. The Hart Dungeon is amazing, Bret is a favorite of mine, and so on and so forth. But man, I just can't go against Verne on this after looking at the facts. Dang.
Now of course, this assumes that the success of the wrestlers is 100% based on the quality of the training, but pretending that's in fact the case, then I'll buy this. Verne has quite the roster, no doubt about it. Thanks, internet!
The AWA's Japanese talent exchange was more fruitful than the NWA's during the same period.
Matt O'Connell SELL: Neither was particularly great, at least during the early part of the 1980's. All that resulted from the AWA/AJPW partnership was a very brief Jumbo Tsuruta world title reign and a Nick Bockwinkel face turn. The NWA had much the same situation, but with Giant Baba. But the NWA/WCW was apparently pleased enough with the exchange to make Japanese collaboration a regular thing, and in later years stars from both AJPW and NJPW would become fixtures on the American scene. Without Baba's reigns, we might not have gotten stuff like Sting/Muta and Jushin Liger in WCW, among other things.
Dino ZucconiBUY: I don't feel that either really accomplished much in the long term, really. Historically, talent exchanges with Japan led to the Japanese booker (or his choice) holding a title, like Giant Baba or Jumbo Tsuruta. That said, I think the AWA managed to at least bolster its roster via the exchange in times of need, which I don't feel the NWA did. At least not as well as the AWA did in the early-mid 80s.
Despite a high profile presence in AWA for years, Jerry Blackwell was never impressive as a main event guy.
Matt O'Connell SELL: Confession: I love Jerry Blackwell. The guy was hilarious, from his heel promos boasting about the amount of food he could eat and his insistence that his pendulous man-breasts and hammy armflaps were really impressive muscles to his face persona of abusing innocent lumber products. And his hobo-that-somehow-absorbed-all-the-other-hobos look was certainly unique. Let's not forget that he was actually pretty over with the AWA fans, either.
Dino Zucconi BUY: To be fair, I missed the bulk of his run, but I've never been a big fan of Crusher Blackwell. It's just a personal thing, and maybe it would have been different if I was there, but I wasn't. If he's your guy, more power to you, but I've never been too impressed with what I've seen. I mean no disrespect to his memory; just not my cup of tea.
And now, a brief intermission before the switch. Jerry Lawler doesn't use turn signals?
Bobby Heenan was a better manager than he was a commentator.
Dino ZucconiSELL: I sell this not based on Heenan's weakness as a manager, but because of how fantastic I consider him to be as a commentator. Whether managing The Blackjacks, John Studd, Andre or Mr. Perfect, Heenan always surrounded himself with the best in the industry at all times. Like I said, his managing prowess is not being questioned here
Regardless, I consider Heenan among the absolute greatest color commentators. In all honesty, he's my personal favorite. His calls for SummerSlam 91 and 92, 92 Rumble, Mania 8, all through his WCW run remain burned in my memory. Some dislike his WCW years due to him not caring, but I loved it all. Him STILL hating Hogan following Hulk's nWo turn impressed the hell out of me at the time. Heenan is the best color guy ever, so I Sell.
Matt O'Connell BUY: This is tricky since he was better at both than literally everyone else; the real question is what was he the MOST best at, which doesn't even make sense grammatically. As a manager, he led several tag teams to championship gold, plenty more guys to secondary titles, and both Nick Bockwinkel and Andre the Giant to world heavyweight titles. As a commentator, he formed a literally perfect tandem with Gorilla Monsoon and made Vince McMahon's play-by-play listenable. I'm literally going to flip a coin here.
Looks like it's a Buy.
Even after all these years, Mean Gene Okerlund is still the best interviewer of all time.
Dino Zucconi BUY: I don't even want to think of a world without "Well you know something, Mean Gene!" This is simple for me. He didn't make poo faces, show vacant expressions; he was able to riff with heels and faces alike, maintain an air of authority while staying scared, and always captured the mood perfectly. He made WCW feel official, and is better than everyone doing the job currently in WWE. He's the man.
Matt O'Connell BUY: Yeah, and there's nobody even close. I guess by sheer longevity somebody like Josh Matthews or his dad (according to Road Dogg, anyway) Ken Resnick would have to be a distant second. But Mean Gene was not a guy that was sometimes a manager, sometimes a c-show commentator, and also a backstage interviewer. He also didn't get there by being a failed wrestler. He was an interviewer, plain and simple, and he was damn good at it. He never shied away from criticizing heels, yet even the worst of them would never lay a hand on him. He had an air of absolute confidence and professionalism, even when he was getting flecked by Ultimate Warrior sputum.
That's all for this week, folks. I'd like to thank all my readers, and my fellow 411 staffers that participated in this week's round of questions. I hope to see you all this same time next week for more 411 Buy or Sell: Classic Wrestling Edition.